April 19, 2007 ~ Pins and Needles
Monday morning after breakfast, something shivered down my spine screaming, Danger! Go to him NOW! This wasn't the normal, "Gee, he's been awfully quiet" thought, for I'd been away only three minutes. No, this was a compulsion, a gut instinct.
I ran and found Grove sitting on the couch, holding the pincushion in one hand, a sewing pin in the other. Morgan must have left the sewing supplies out after his project the night before.
Pins were sprinkled all around Grove. The embroidery scissors lay next to his leg. He was chewing on something. Ignoring the pins and scissors, I stuck my finger in his mouth, hooked it, and adrenaline shot through me as I fished a pin out of the back of his mouth. I swept his mouth again to be sure there was only one, then snatched the scissors away and started gathering the pins, throwing everything on top of the piano, where he cannot reach. He screamed at me for taking away his fascinating new toy and his interesting, sharp snack.
Did he swallow any pins before I found him? Tears started to prickle at the corners of my eyes. Picking Grove up, I called Morgan. Biting back blame, I explained what I had found and asked, "Call the doctor. See if we should bring him there for an x-ray." I needed to get him ready to go and couldn't spend time on hold.
I sent Monty to the crate, changed Grove's diaper, filled the water bottle, and tossed the diaper bag next to the door. Morgan called back, saying that they said to take him to the emergency room, since that is where he would have to be anyway if he had indeed swallowed any pins. Morgan came home and brought Rose to the pen as I got our shoes on and filled Monty's water. I relaxed a little, because Grove wasn't acting like he was in pain. Hopefully everything was fine. We still needed to know for sure, though.
Fifteen minutes later, I was standing with Grove at the emergency check-in counter where they took his blood pressure. "Davis. Grove. No, Grove, like a grove of trees. 16 months. No medications." Grove stared at the little light they'd taped to the end of his finger and said, "Lie-da?" his word for "light." They sent us to the waiting room.
It took a few minutes for me to get out of my own head enough to look around. An elderly couple sat to our left, the woman shooting nervous glances at her husband. A man sat nearby with his daughter in a stroller; he leaned his head on the handle. He looked near tears. A woman across the room was called, and her friend (partner?) looked after her with worried eyes.
As always, I had tuned out the TV blaring in the corner, but the words "24 wounded" and "opened fire in a classroom building" seeped through. I looked at the screen in alarm, but could make little sense of the shaky video footage of figures scurrying by a white pick-up toward a three-story brownstone building.
Grove started trying to rip up the magazines in the corner rack, so I carried him over to the window. Watching the trees and bushes thrash about in the high winds, Grove asked "Da dat?" (What's that?) pointing. "Wind," I explained. He pointed again, "Da dat?"
A bleary-eyed man smelling strongly of alcohol stumbled by and started laughing hysterically, holding his sides. "He shaid 'da da'! Ha ha ha ha ha! 'Da da.' " I smiled politely and walked away.
The triage nurses asked us more questions, then we returned to the waiting room. Time passed. I tried not to think about sharp little pins passing further and further down Grove's digestive tract.
"At least 22 killed, 24 wounded in Virginia Tech shooting."
One of the receptionists walked toward the television. "Oh my god. She said 22 killed, not just wounded." She turned to another receptionist. "Killed. And even more wounded. Jesus."
A man who had just walked in started to vomit all over the chairs across the room. He looked like he had been badly beaten. The nurses rushed to him with a bucket and cleaning supplies. A woman behind me started explaining some paperwork in rapid Spanish. I held Grove close and listened to the reporter on the TV, feeling sick.
I thought, Twenty-two Families are learning that they have suddenly lost their sister or father or son or daughter to a senseless act of mass violence. Meanwhile, my son may have swallowed a pin or two, and I'm not sure how I'm going to pay the medical bills.
I was suddenly feeling very thankful for my problems.
Finally, they called us back. We took off Grove's overalls and shoes. "Whos, whos!" he said, sad to see them go. A doctor examined him, but saw nothing and sent us on to get an x-ray.
The x-ray was awful. Since it's nearly impossible to get a toddler to sit still, they have this plastic mould they strapped him into to hold him still while Morgan held his hands above his head. He screamed and screamed and screamed. "It's good when they cry; we get a better x-ray when their lungs are full," said the technician. I don't think I have ever seen Grove more unhappy.
As soon as they were done, I took him and nursed him and soothed him. He looked up at me with wary eyes in a tear-stained face. We returned to a room and waited. And waited. And waited.
An hour later, a man came in. He sat down, looking very grim. Morgan and I gave each other a concerned look.
Finally, he introduced himself and said in a serious tone, "I will be your nurse for the afternoon."
He paused for a very long moment, and I thought, Ah. So we're going to be here a while. He did swallow at least one pin. He's going to need surgery. Worry flooded me.
"Do you need anything?" he asked.
There was an awkward moment when both Morgan and I were thinking, Uh... Aren't you going to tell us how bad it is? "No," I finally said. "We're... we're fine."
"Okay, well, a doctor should be looking at the x-ray shortly."
"Oh. Oh! Okay." Relief.
"If you need anything, just call," he said, ducking out the door.
"Thanks," for making my heart stop.
We waited and waited and waited. If he does have a pin in him, it's moving further and further along. Every few minutes, the damage it could do increases. We need to KNOW. It took all of my patience not to walk out and plead with a passing nurse. They had other far more pressing cases than the kid who might have swallowed a pin.
Finally, after another hour passed, a doctor came in and told us we could go. The x-rays were clear. Grove hadn't swallowed anything.
As we sat down at the discharge desk in the waiting room, I heard the TV again. Now they were citing 31 dead, 29 wounded. The numbers had changed dramatically in the last few hours. "So many..." I said. Morgan nodded, grim.
I thought about a news story that I had read years before, shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks. It was about a woman who had come home that morning to find every single thing that she owned missing from her house. Right as she discovered that her entire material life was gone--from the photos of her grandparents and the heirloom silverware to her cheap cheese cutter--news of the devastating attacks in New York and Washington spread across the world. She spoke of how lucky she felt, having lost everything but her life on that horrible day, so memorable on both a personal and a global level for her. Her personal loss would always be dwarfed by the September 11th tragedy.
And there I sat while a tragedy unfolded in Blacksburg, Virginia, feeling extremely lucky that our suspected emergency had been nothing at all. Where was I when the Virginia Tech shooting happened? I was at the emergency room because my son had not swallowed a pin. The mothers and fathers of those victims, I'm sure they spent just as much worry and care on their sons and daughters every day of their lives, making sure all the pins and needles in the world wouldn't harm them, just to lose their children suddenly and violently in such a senseless way. I can't imagine. I can't even come close.